Spanning from the early nineteenth century to today, Latinos and Nationhood by Nicolás Kanellos examines the work of Latino writers who explored the major philosophic and political themes of their day, including the meaning and implementation of democracy, their democratic and cultural rights under U.S. dominion, their growing sense of nationhood, and the challenges of slavery and disenfranchisement of women in a democratic republic that had yet to realize its ideals.
Over the course of two centuries, these Latino or Hispanic intellectuals were natural-born citizens of the United States, immigrants, or political refugees. Many of these intellectuals, whether citizens or not, strove to embrace and enliven such democratic principles as freedom of speech and of the press, the protection of minorities in the Bill of Rights and in subsequent laws, and the protection of linguistic and property rights, among many others, guaranteed by treaties when the United States incorporated their homelands into the Union.
Latinos have resided in North America since before the arrival of the English at Jamestown and Plymouth. They already lived in lands that became English colonies and later the states of the early American Republic; of course, their largest populations dwelled in what became the southern and western United States, Mexico and the Caribbean, most of which would be conquered and/or bought by the expanding United States during the nineteenth century. Whether before or after their incorporation into US territory, the people that would in the future be called “Latinos” or “Hispanics” had a rich intellectual history, having introduced the first written European language, book culture and universities to the hemisphere. They pondered and wrote about all of the cultural and scientific themes that we think of as part of the Western tradition. They continued this rich intellectual activity in the lands that became part of the United States.
Over the course of United States history, Latinos thought about, struggled with and wrote about the major philosophic and political themes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including: 1) the meaning and implementation of democracy, especially through establishment of a liberal republic; 2) their democratic and cultural rights under United States dominion; 3) their growing sense of nationhood; and 4) the particular challenges of slavery and disenfranchisement of women in a democratic republic that had yet to realize its ideals.
From the very outset, Latinos thought about and expressed their opinions, penned and published philosophical, humanistic, scientific and political discussions on all of the major topics that today we consider as part of the national intellectual heritage of the United States. They did so through speeches in the public arena, books and periodicals, and in the classroom; in fact, the earliest schools on the continent were missionary schools run by the Spanish friars, and the earliest imprints and newspapers in the West and Southwest were Spanish-language publications. What follows below and in the chapters of this book are stories about only a few individuals who made an impact on the spread of intellectual thought, these thinkers and activists were not alone in developing, articulating and publishing important ideas; rather, they were members of communities of thinkers, writers and political activists who helped them hone their ideas. Indeed, it would take volumes to adequately chart the full development of Latino thought; thus, this book is just an initial foray into a rich and complex intellectual history. In this foray, I have chosen not to review the thought about identity and nationhood of such well known giants of Latino thought as, for instance José Martí, who was in the vanguard of so many ideas about democracy, race relations and governance. Rather, the first, larger section of this book will be dedicated to presenting the work lesser-known thinkers, most of whose works have been inaccessible until recently. The traditional Anglo- or Euro-centric history of the United States has consistently ignored Latino intellectual history, and especially is unaware of most of the intellectuals to be covered in this book. Today, this intellectual tradition, like that of other ethnic and minority groups, women and LGBTQ+, is key to achieving a full understanding of our development as a democratic nation striving for equity and the realization of its ideals penned in the Constitution and its amendments. In the last three chapters of the book, I take the liberty of inserting my personal reading of three prominent literary figures from the Chicano movement, a movement in which I have served as the most experienced editor/publisher.
The contributions of Latinos to the civilization of the Americas, including what later would become the United States, begin during the period of exploration and colonization and include such legacies of American life as the technologies of farming, ranching, mining and natural resource management, among many others. Most of these accomplishments can be attributed to mestizo culture (mixed European, African and Native American) that arose not only south of today’s border but also in the lands that would become the United States. However, the starting point for this book will properly be the United States shortly after winning its independence from the British Empire and its establishment of a new form of government.
Since the days of the early American Republic, Latino intellectuals have struggled: 1) to export to their countries of origin the democratic ideas learned from the US “founding fathers” and the texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and the American Constitution; 2) and from the mid nineteenth century onward under US dominion to demand the implementation of these lofty concepts among minorities and the disenfranchised within the boundaries of the American Republic. From the mid-nineteenth century on, Latinos have struggled to define themselves within the American Republic and to understand their relationship with the Hispanic world write large. At first, these intellectuals from throughout the Americas, from as far away as the River Platte and Peru, idealistically flocked to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston to acquire this knowledge, translate it and smuggle it to the various regions of New Spain; they did so in order to prepare for their independent nationhood, as separate from “the mother country” Spain, and create an ideological foundation on which to establish their own republics. As documented in Chapters 1 and 2, most of these political thinkers were drawn to Philadelphia at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, not only because it was the cradle of American independence and at that time the capital of the United States, but also because it was home to numerous printers. For competitive fees, these printers made “freedom of the press” a reality for the Spaniards and Spanish American creoles (criollos) whose mission it was to adapt US democratic and republican principles in the political texts they would smuggle into the Caribbean and as far as south as the River Platte.